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Dr. Thomas Richardson on the Money Worries programme

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    March 19, 2024

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    mental health, space from money worries, Online CBT Therapies Programme

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Money Worries is a product designed to help break the link between financial difficulties and poor mental health. To know more about the programme, we interviewed Thomas Richardson, Clinical Psychologist and accredited Cognitive Behaviour Therapist who contributed to the development of Money Worries programme.

How can money worries affect a person’s wellbeing?

Sadly, it can have a huge impact. My own research has shown that those in debt are more than three times as likely to have a mental health problem, including issues such as depression and a greater risk of suicide. I have also found that there can be a vicious cycle between financial difficulties and mental health problems including anxiety and eating disorders: the more you struggle financially the worse your mental health gets, and vice versa.

Debt can be a big burden to carry psychologically. People can spend a lot of time worrying about it, feeling hopeless about whether they can pay it off, and feeling like they have no control over their financial situation, so they avoid trying to deal with it. This can lead to stress and poor mental health.

Money WorriesHow can mental health problems impact financial capability?

If you’re struggling with your mental health this can make it hard to manage your finances. If a person feels so low that they struggle to get out of bed, they are going to find it hard to ring the bank. The person who feels anxious to open the door is not going to feel any less anxious about opening a letter from their credit card company. We all avoid our finances to an extent: for example, not checking your bank balance after a holiday; avoidance and mental health problems often go hand in hand.

It can also feel overwhelming to try and take action to improve your financial situation, and people might panic about the worst-case scenarios that might happen. For example, if someone is already anxious they may worry that missing one payment means they will lose their house. Their way of coping might be trying to avoid logging into their bank account, which of course digs the hole deeper. Some people with issues such as Bipolar Disorder may also have periods of impulse spending when they are unwell.

For creditors, this can be a big problem. Many participants in my studies reported not opening letters from banks when they were depressed. Trying to write to this person to insist they pay clearly isn’t going to work, and if this person defaults further then everyone loses. A new approach is needed; one that targets the root psychological causes of the vicious cycles which many people find themselves trapped in. This is where the Money Worries programme comes in.

What first gave you the idea for the Money Worries programme?

I was frustrated by the fact that help for those with poor mental health and financial problems is disjointed when essentially, they can be two sides of the same coin. I was also very aware from my clinical work and research of the psychological aspects underlying these difficulties. For example, research shows that your level of worry about debt has a bigger impact on your mental health than the actual amount of debt you’re in. I found this very interesting because it means you can reduce the impact of debt on people’s mental health if you reduce how much they worry about it. I knew that a psychological approach could have a much more sustainable impact.

I published a few papers on finances and mental health. I also published about the benefits of computer-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) on depression and anxiety with Dr. Derek Richards who is Head of Research at Amwell. So, I thought combining these two areas could work well: using CBT to tackle the underlying patterns which link financial and mental health problems with the convenience of an online platform.


Who is the Money Worries programme aimed at?

Money Worries is designed for a broad spectrum of mental health: though it is designed to benefit those with problems such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Bipolar Disorder, it is not just for those with a diagnosed mental health problem. It is designed particularly for those with low to moderate levels of stress, anxiety and low mood, when this makes it hard for them to manage their finances. It is also designed for a wide range of financial situations: the student struggling to stick to a tight budget, the person with Bipolar disorder who impulse shops, the parent criticizing themselves for being in debt, the worker who feels hopeless about an impending bankruptcy.  Regardless of an individual’s financial or mental health situation, there are certain key mechanisms that keep vicious cycles going: hopelessness, feeling like no control over finances, and worry about finances.The Money Worries programme tackles these head-on to break the cycle.

Our market research has shown several potential markets for organisations wishing to offer the Money Worries programme to their clients including the financial service industry, the debt and money advice sector, Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services and student support services.

What are the potential benefits of the Money Worries programme?

The programme is accessible 24/7 for a year, allowing users to access it at a time that suits them and in the comfort of their own home and revisit it when needed. It can be accessed using any device and is interactive, with tools which can be tailored to the individual, personal stories and videos. SilverCloud® by Amwell® Science team has published dozens of papers demonstrating the effectiveness of their software packages, and this has been adapted using the latest research on finances and mental health problems.

There are nine interactive modules using elements of CBT, Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The modules aim to tackle and challenge negative thoughts which keep unhelpful financial coping strategies going. They aim to help people stop avoiding their money problems and face their financial fears; feel more confident and in control of their finances; get active and boost their mood on a budget; and help users come to terms with financial shocks and feel more hopeful about the future. Finally, they learn what triggers impulse spending and find practical strategies to prevent it.

If the user can better face their financial problems then we hope there will be a benefit to the organisations offering it including better customer service and engagement, as well as increased financial capability such as greater ability to engage with debt advice or make payments.

We believe that the Money Worries programme provides a unique and long-term solution to the relationship between money problems and poor mental health.

About Debt Awareness Week

2024 marks the 10th anniversary of Debt Awareness Week (March 18 – March 24). Debt Awareness Week is an annual campaign – led and launched by debt advice providers StepChange – designed to encourage individuals and organisations to speak up about debt and act on it. It also serves as a crucial platform to highlight the intersection between financial issues and mental health. This initiative aims to shed light on the pervasive impact of debt on individuals and families, emphasizing the need for proactive measures to address it. By raising awareness, the campaign encourages open conversations about financial challenges, reducing stigma, and promoting access to support services. Recognizing that debt-related stress can exacerbate mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, underscores the importance of early intervention and holistic support. Ultimately, Debt Awareness Week fosters a more compassionate and informed society, where individuals feel empowered to seek assistance, manage their finances responsibly, and safeguard their mental well-being.

Book a demo to explore the platform and programme yourself. 

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